Rubies, the buried treasures of PoK

Rubies, the buried treasures of PoK
The people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) are sitting on a treasure chest: Millions of rubies, estimated to be worth crores of rupees, are lying beneath them. But archaic tools and a lack of investment in infrastructure and techniques are hampering efforts to transform the area into a significant player in the gem industry.

“We have rubies that are at least as good as the Burmese, but their mining techniques are more sophisticated,” says Huma Rizvi, a dealer in precious stones.

PoK has just one mine and one exploration site, where miners dig to assess the potential of the jewels below. But the region has proven reserves of more than 40 million grams of rubies, and inferred resources of nearly 50 million grams, according to geological surveys commissioned by the provincial executive.

Muhammad Azeem spends four months a year toiling in the Chitta Katha mine on the slopes of the Himalayas, which requires an 11-hour drive and then two hours walking to reach from Muzaffarabad, the capital of PoK.

“I drill in the mine before the explosives are placed for blasting... It’s a very hard job,” the miner said, using an old-fashioned perforator at the bottom of poorly ventilated tunnels.

It is back-breaking work with only occasional rewards -- last year workers discovered a ruby the size of an egg.

Experts believe tapping into the gem reserve could transform the fortunes of a region home to four million people largely living off modest incomes. Yet precious stones currently account for less than 1% of its tax revenues.

The federal authorities that administer this disputed territory do not have the funds to buy new machinery or to build more mines, said an official.

“Mining is done manually or by small blasts -- and we lose 40 to 50% of the value of the stones,” he acknowledges. “Due to lack of investment, we are not making the most of our resources.”

For PoK’s rubies and other mineral resources -- such as copper, gold and silver -- to contribute more to Pakistan’s economy, there must be more investment in local expertise and development of a legal framework to support the mining sector, a dealer says.

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